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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XVIII

From Newmilns to Galston--The Institute--Barr Castle--The Boss Tree--Cessnock Castle--The appearance of the buildings--The Campbells of Cessnock--Sir Hew, and the charges brought against him--The alienation of the Castle and Lands-- The Main Street of Galston--The Parish Church and Graveyard--Stones commemorative of local Covenanters--John Wright, the Galston Poet--Titchfield Street-- A Mining Settlement--From Galston to Hurlford--The Village: its buildings and inhabitants--Crookedholm--Back to Kilmarnock--Conclusion.

The road from Newmilns to Galston, which is nearly two miles in length, its remarkable for sylvan beauty and picturesque scenery, being draped with hanging boughs, and fringed on the one hand with the thickly-wooded policies of Loudoun Castle, and on the other by stripes of plantation through which the waters of the Irvine gurgling sing a continual farewell to "Loudoun’s bonnie woods an’ braes" as they roll on to mingle with the mighty deep. I enjoyed the walk immensely, and stopped now and again to feast my vision on the prospect or to catch glimpses of the castle, for its stately form is now and then seen through opening between the branches of the magnificent old trees. Towards the end of the road I observed the town of Galston lying in a hollow on the left bank of the Irvine, and as my way home passed through it I pushed onward at a brisk pace, so that I might rest and partake of refreshment in the house of ex-Bailie Murdoch, who retails not only the staff of life but also the "broo o’ the barley." Arriving at a stately bridge which spans the river I crossed the entered the town of Galston, which contains 4727 of a population, and has a general trade of muslin-weaving and woollen manufacture. Of late years it has undergone a transition which has not been for the better--an influx of miners who are employed in pits in the vicinity having taken place, it has become both populous and rough, for a shifting, unsettled class of any kind rarely adds to the moral status of a community. Passing the Mechanics’ Institute--a handsome building lately presented to the inhabitants by the philanthropic Miss Brown of Lanfine --I gained the main artery of the town, and after partaking of my promised rest and refreshment started to explore and antiquities. The principal is Barr Castle, an old square tower, which stands in a hollow in the vicinity of the railway station. It is seemingly a remnant of a more extensive building, but it is without a history, little being known regarding it beyond what tradition has handed town. It is at present a seed store, but in early times it was doubtless the residence of some baron of no mean order. By its side grows an old plane-tree, which a juvenile tradition affirms once served as a means of escape to the valiant Wallace, who when pursued by enemies leaped from a top window of the edifice into its branches and descended to the ground. According to M’Crie’s Life of Knox, Barr Castle must have been occupied about the year 1556 by a John Lockhart, who was a warm supporter of the Reformed doctrines and a zealous assistant at the spoliation of various churches, for that writer states that Knox preached in the building and addressed the people of Kyle from one of its windows. It was also a favourite haunt of John Wright, a gifted but unfortunate local poet, who repeatedly refers to it and very happily as follows in one of his shorter pieces:--

"Barr Castle! tenantless and wild!
Dome of delight! dear haunt of mine!
The shock of ages thou hast foiled,
Since fell the last of Lockhart’s line;
Thou’rt left a hermit to grow gray
O’er swallow, crane, and bird of prey.

"Proud edifice! no annals tell
What thou hast brooked, what thou hast been,
Who reared thee in this lovely dell,
What mightly baron--lord, I ween,
Of hardy Kyle; no bordering tower
Possessed more independent power.

"O for a pinion from the wing
Of pelf to lift me from the mire,
And crown a wish, formed a life’s spring,
When life was all desire!
These walls should ring with minstrel’s lay,
These turrets fall not to decay."

"The Barr" at this day and since the earliest recollection of the oldest inhabitant is the resort and play-place of the youths of the town, and many a keenly-contested game of handball is played against the tower. During my visit a group were engaged at the pastime, and their noisy, good-humoured ejaculations recalled to my mind the following verse of Wright’s "Retrospect":--

"To Lockhart’s tower now flocked we forth--the prey
To wreck of ages, and the pride of song;
Where many a gambol circled round the gray,
Dark, feudal vestige, and its dells among;
But o’er all sports athletic, nimble, strong,
Was handball pastime; young, mid-aged, and old,
As equals mingled, after practice long;
And scarce a neighbouring village was so bold
As struggle with our own the sovereignty to hold."

Near to "the Barr" there is a dilapidated wall surrounding an old garden which is said to be that which belonged to the castle. It is still under cultivation, and has every appearance of the antiquity ascribed to it. In a field adjacent to the vestige of feudal times stands the remains of a majestic elm of gigantic proportions which was now by the name of "the boss tree," from the circumstances of a cavity in its trunk. The botanical curiosity was blown down some twenty years ago, and all now remaining of it is a rotten hollow stump in which four men might conveniently stand erect; but notwithstanding its condition, and that it is decayed to a mere shell, it still retains one healthful gnarled bough which somewhat astonishing manages to draw sustenance from its apparently sapless parent. Tradition has it that the Wallace Wight hid from his foes in the branches of this tree; but whether it was or was not the case is of little consequence, the shattered remnant being a sufficient curiosity. M’Kay in his Ingleside Lilts makes the tradition the subject of a poem which he entitles "The Warrior’s Tree." It concludes as follows:--

"Then boldy he sprang from the green leafy shade,
His eye sternly rolling in wrath;
The glen’s lonely echoes resounded his tread,
As on to the combat majestic he sped,
Regardless of ruin or death.

"The vision has passed; but the Warrior’s Tree,
Through fading ‘neath Time’s chilling blight,
Still waves its branches alone on the lea,
Where the peasant oft pauses, delighted to see
The haunt of brave Wallace the Wight."

From the boss tree I leisurely strolled towards the railway station, crossed a bridge which spans the line, and after a walk of little over a mile along a beautiful road, from which the pedestrian has a delightful view of the woods of Loudoun, the braes of Lanfine, and a vast track of level country, stopped before an old-fashioned gateway with a turnstile. Finding it to be the entrance to the policies of Cessnock Castle, I entered, passed up the avenue, and in a short time arrived in a courtyard lined on three sides with old buildings of various heights and designs. On the right, near to the top of what appeared to be the principal one, and old clock whose hands had ceased to indicate the passing hour displayed its weather-beaten face and looked down upon the apparently deserted residence as if conscious that its services were no longer necessary, for there was no appearance of life, all being still and in a semi-ruinous condition. Leaning on my staff I viewed the old place, and while thus engrossed fell into a reverie, out of which I was roused by a low growl in close proximity with my heels, which had the effect of nearly frightening the life out of me and causing me to spring a couple of feet into the air. Turning I beheld a large dog tugging at the end of a chain, and doing its best to scare me from the scene. With thoughts of the seat of m best trousers being torn out, I was making a hasty retreat when a door in the left wing of the building opened and a young man made his appearance, to whom I related the object of my visit. After changing the tune of the noisy brute into  an apologetic howl he kindly conducted me over the buildings and showed me everything that he considered interesting connected with them, but I did not observe anything very remarkable, and after passing through one empty room after another I was glad when I regained the outer world. I do love old buildings, but Cessnock is not sufficiently wrecked for me; it is by far too clean and destitute of cobwebs, but nevertheless it is a fine place and will amply repay a visit. It stands on the top of a steep bank overlooking Burnawn, a romantic streamlet whose banks are bright with bloom and melody, and whose channel is famous for the number of pebbles and jaspers that have periodically been found in it. Originally the building consisted of a solitary square tower of great strength, but additions were from time to time made to it until it became very extensive; and though now deserted and in a measure abandoned to decay, it retains not a little of its old grandeur and present a very interesting appearance. Ivy in many places has begun to creep up the walls and peer into some of the windows, as if anxious to see what progress decay is making within. The Campbells of Cessnock were descended from a second son of George Campbell of Loudoun, who married Lady Janet Montgomerie, seventh daughter of Hugh, first Earl of Eglinton, in November, 1513. The connection with the Loudoun family was made closer by the pious but unfortunate Sir Hew Campbell of Cessnock, who about 1630 married Lady Elizabeth, second daughter and co-heiress of George, Master of Loudoun. Amongst the many associations of Cessnock Castle the history of Sir Hew is the most mournful, that nobleman being persecuted to the death by a secret enemy who is supposed to have been John Drummond, Viscount of Melfort. Sir Hew belonged to the Presbyterian party, and took part in the political troubles which ended in the death of Charles I. Upon the ascension of Charles II. he became a favourite at court, and was knighted by that monarch about 1649, and was by Parliament appointed Lord Justice-Clerk. At the Restoration he retired from public life, but here his troubles commenced. Without any apparent cause he was exempted from the act of indemnity passed in 1662, and, after suffering various terms of imprisonment and paying heavy fines, was in 1683, along with his son George, thrown into prison upon a trumped-up charge of being connected with the Covenanters in the district, and accessory to the rising at Bothwell. At the trial they would have been found guilty had not a conscience-stricken witness broken down. This event cause their acquittal, but they were detained in prison, and in the year following were brought to trial for being connected with the Ryehouse Plot. This they partly admitted, and threw themselves upon the mercy of the Court, but were found guilty and sentenced to be removed to the Bass until the King’s pleasure should be known. Their estates were forfeited and annexed to the crown, but afterwards were conferred upon the supposed secret instigator of the charges. Under this harsh treatment the health of Sir Hew broke down, and after a lengthened imprisonment on this account he was released, but died shortly afterwards at Edinburgh, on the 20th September, 1686, aged 71 years. When the troublous times of the Revolution were over a hill was laid before Parliament to rescind all fines and forfeitures that had occurred after the year 1665. The bill after much opposition was passed, and the castle and the lands of Cessnock were restored to the family. Sir George Campbell of Cessnock, the sharer of much of the persecution directed against his father, came into possession in March, 1691, but having no male issue with the property devolved upon Sir Alexander Hume, Earl of Marchmont, who married his daughter Margaret. In turn he was succeeded by his son Hugh, who alienated the estate and confined his landed property to Berkshire. Since that time Cessnock has been in the possession of several individuals. It was for some considerable time occupied by a John Wallace, a relative of the Wallaces of Cairnhill; but 1786 the trustees of Miss Scott, late Duchess of Portland, acquired it, and it is now in the possession of his Grace the Duke. Bounding down the steep bank on which the castle stands, I strayed along a footpath that skirts the Burnawn, which at this point jinks round a curve and runs zig-zag through a beautiful glen.

After a pleasant walk I arrived in the highway and shortly afterwards in the main street of Galston, a closey-built, populous thoroughfare, and entered the Crown Inn to fortify my inner man before starting for home. I found Mr and Mrs Ferguson very courteous, a circumstance that did much to make my refreshment doubly refreshing, and causing me to think lightly of the five lang Scotch miles that lay between me and Kilmarnock.

At the head of the main street on an eminence stands the Parish Church, a commodious building topped with a beautiful spire in which there are clock dials. It stands in the centre of a very ancient graveyard, and was erected in 1808 upon the site of an old place of worship which previous to the Reformation belonged to the Friars of Faile, a fraternity, who, as the reader will doubtless remember,

"Loved gude kail on Fridays when they fasted."

In the graveyard I met with several very chaste monuments and tombstones which mark the burying-places of some very old Galston families, and also with two humble slabs commemorative of Galston Covenanters. One of these bears the following inscription:--"In memory of John Richmond, younger of Know, who was executed at the Cross of Glagow, March 19th, 1684, and interred in the High Churchyard there; and James Smith, East Threepwood, who was shot near Bank on Burnawn, 1684, by Captain Inglis and his dragoons, and buried there. Also, James Young and George Campbell, who were banished in 1679, and the Rev. Alex. Blair, who suffered imprisonment, 1673."

John Richmond was captured in Glasgow by Major Balfour. Wodrow tells how he was taken to the guard-house, and bound neck and heel, and left for hours on the damp floor bruised and bleeding from wounds received in a struggle with his captor. The reader will remember that it was at his funeral James Nisbet, in Highside, was taken and shortly afterwards executed at Howgatehead, Glasgow, as related in the last chapter. Nothing is known of James Smith beyond what is graven on the stone. James Young and George Campbell were taken at Bothwell, conveyed to Edinburgh, and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Churchyard, and afterwards along with two hundred and fifty others banished to the plantations, but the ship was wrecked when off the Moul Head of Deerness, and they both perished. The Rev. Alex.Blair was minister of Galston, and a man of more than ordinary talent. In 1662 he suffered imprisonment for refusing to submit to prelacy, and was stripped of his clerical rights. In 1669 he was charged with the crime of preaching and baptizing, and was dismissed with a caution, and was afterwards imprisoned for refusing to give thanks to God for the restoration of Charles II. on a day appointed by the Government, but the confinement so injured his health that he died "in much joy," says Wodrow, "and full assurance of faith."

Near to the door of the church and close to the side walk there is another stone which marks the spot where rests one of "bloody Graham’s" victims. On the top there is a wretched bas-relief representation of one man shooting another. Between the figures there is a sand-glass two-thirds of their size, and gun is as thick as the leg of the holder and longer than himself; the whole is very ridiculous, and ill accords with the inscription, which is as follows:--"Here lies Andrew Richmond, who was killed by blood Graham of Claverhouse, 1679, for his adherence to the word of God and Scotland’s Covenanted work of Reformation.

"When bloody tyrants here did rage
Over the Lord’s own heritage,
To persecute His noble cause,
By mischief framed into laws;
‘Cause I the Gospel did defend
By martyrdom my life did end."

Noting is known regarding Andrew Richmond beyond what the stone states.

Amongst the many memorials of departed worth in this churchyard the absence of a tribute to the memory of John Wright, the local poet already referred to, is conspicuous. The people of Galston may consider the nativity of this ill-starred votary of the muse no great honour, but nevertheless it is undeniable that his poetry is highly creditable to the unlettered muse of Scotland, and would not disgrace a town of greater pretensions. But who is John Wright? some of my readers may ask. Well, John Wright was a native of Galston, a harness weaver, and the author of a volume of poems entitled The Retrospect, or Youthful Scenes, and many other poems and songs. In early life he was sober, well- conducted, and industrious, and continued to be so until Fame found him out, but after that he allowed himself gradually to be drawn into the vortex of intemperance. When at the loom he wrote The Retrospect, a long poem of undoubted merit, but as neither it nor any of his shorter pieces met with the approbation of his friends he determined to visit Edinburgh and get some literary man’s opinion regarding the whole. Collecting his manuscripts, he set out with them and one halfpenny in his pocket and walked to the capital, living by the way upon turnips or whatever he could procure. While strolling friendless, and I may objectless, through the city--for he possessed no recommendation--he met with a Galston lad who was studying at the college, and by him was taken by the hand and introduced to John Wilson, professor of moral philosophy. The professor took John’s poems, read them, and wrote a notice of the author, which he published in an Edinburgh magazine. In that notice he says--"Mr Wright is a self-taught poet, and has encountered difficulties in his progress more depressing to genius than an I have seen recorded of either Burns or Hogg." The cry arose, who is this new poet? and every one was desirous of obtaining a copy of his work, which was speedily published. The first edition appeared in 1833, and two others during the course of his life. A copy of one before me contains a list of subscribers, and I observe the names of twenty-two clergymen and several of the most eminent literary men then living. Fame was within this grasp, and he might have done well, but drink ruined him, and during the latter years of his life he wandered from town to town living as he best could, and that generally upon the charity or hospitality of friends who had known him in other circumstances. J. K. Hunter, in his Life Studies, speaks of meeting with him in Paisley Road, Glasgow. He must then have fallen very low, and I would fain hope that the picture Hunter draws of him is overdone. He says--"A different sort of study made its appearance--a sair-worn something that had once borne resemblance to a man, now rowed up in a bundle of auld claes that might have adorned a scarecrow in a potato field without exciting the envy of a dealer in cast-off raiment; an auld Kilmarnock bonnet pulled down to the eyes; the head leaning forward, the shoulders rounded and high as the crown of the head; an earthy coat that might once have been black--the very dirt on it glazed--buttoned to the throat; the skeleton of two pairs of trousers, torn to strips; and pair of bauchles on the stocking less feet… …I could not have fancied that form the abode of poetry; it would have been the last element of thought I should have guessed to have ever lodged in the clay tenement." After borrowoing pins from women on the way with which to pin the rags of the poet together, Hunter gave him a few coppers (all the money he had with him, he states), bade him good- bye, and saw him no more.

John Wright died "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung," aged thirty-nine--one account states in the Glasgow Police-office and another in the Royal Infirmary. A few Galston natives residing in Glasgow followed his remains to their last resting place, and defrayed the expenses of the funeral amongst them. In a nameless grave he found a lethe for all his self-inflicted woes, but for all that a simple slab might be raised in the churchyard of his native village to commemorate this gifted but unfortunate son of song.

Closing the churchyard gate I entered the Cross, glanced at the clock on the church steeple, and was surprised to find that the day was far spent, and that the goamin’ would be set by the time Kilmarnock would be reached. Buttoning my coat, I grasped my staff firmly, took a last look around, turned my face in the direction of home, and walked at a brisk pace down Titchfield Street. The buildings in this line of street are unostentatiously plain, and through several of the windows I observed looms and grey-headed "wasters" industriously plying the shuttle. At one door I paused a moment and listened to the clickity-clack and the birr of a pirn wheel, for they are sounds that I seldom hear, but when heard they awaken fond memories and recall to my mind the happy, joyous days, "when I was callant and gaed to the schule." At the foot of Titchfield Street are situated a collection of miner’s houses called the Boyd, the Gauchlan, and the Goatfoot Rows, which have sprung up mushroom-like with the last few years. They have a cleanly and comfortable look, and their occupants a bien and respectable appearance. Here Titchfield Street merges into the Kilmarnock road. Following its course I passed on my right another mining settlement named the Tarry and New Goatfoot Rows. The firs is so named from the circumstance of the roofs of the houses covered with tarred canvas. It was in the New Goatfoot Row that my old friend James Garret lived. Although a miner he was well read and highly respected, and is now sadly missed by his family and fellow-workmen, for they often profited by his long experience and wise counsel in trade matters. He was generally averse to strikes, but if a dispute had no other alternative old James never lifted a pick until it was settled. But he has gone--gone to the narrow house, and my small circle of friends and well-wishers counts one less.

Beyond New Goatfoot Row the road for a long distance is broad and level, and traverses a delightful district which presents many fine alternations of hill and dale, wood, fell, and russet lawn. I enjoyed the scene immensely as I walked at a brisk pace on my homeward journey, but did not meet with anything worthy of remark until I came to Hoodstone Bridge. This bridge spans the Cessnock--a streamlet which Burns has rendered classic by his muse, and which at this point forms an eccentric curve before it empties itself into the Irvine. The stream also divides the parished of Galston and Riccarton, and bounds the estate of Holmes, a residence of the Fairlies. The mansion-house can be seen in the distance through the trees, but is a modern erection possessed of no feature of interest. After lingering a short time watching the rippling Cessnock I followed the line of road, which after some two miles of a continuous level becomes somewhat steep and irregular. Passing through Hillhead Toll I gradually attained the summit of the brae, and paused at a small bridge that spans a single line of rail that communicates between the main railway and some coal pits belonging to the Messrs Gilmour. Here I had a splendid view of the surrounding country. The prospect from the bridge is an extensive as it is beautiful, and the eye rests with delight upon a fertile and highly picturesque tack of country. Farther on I passed a roadside public-house, into which a number of miners were entering seemingly with the intention of "wetting their whistles" and washing the dust of the week out of their throats. I was certain it was pay-day with them, for the buxom landlady smirked and smiled upon the motley group, and welcomed them ben with great frankness. A little beyond this "public" the road takes a turn, and when rounding it the somewhat scattered but populous village of Hurlford bursts into view.

Passing rows of miner’s dwellings of the usual class, and remarkable only for the number of children gamboling about them, I arrived in the village of Hurlford. Old Hurlford, which consists of a few thatched houses of mean appearance, stands on an old and now disused road in a hollow to the north of the modern village. These house--some half-dozen in number--were all that constituted the hamlet seventy years ago; but had it not been discovered that the district of Hurlford was rich in mineral the Hurlford of then would have been the Hurlford of to-day, and the ground whereon the new portion of the village stands would have been furrowed by the plough and yielded crops to the husbandman. Hurlford of to-day, however, is a place of considerable importance and bustle. It contains a population of 2718, or, including Crookedholm, 3488, and is possessed of two handsome churches, a commodious academy, and a beautiful jail, which I trust the inhabitants patronize as little as possible, and also a prosperous Co-operative Society. It depends chiefly on the Portland Iron Works, the extensive fire-clay goods factory of J. & R. Howie, and the numerous collieries in its vicinity.

Crossing a splendid bridge which spans the Irvine, I passed on the north side of the road the Free Church, a very neat edifice with a spire, and a little farther on, on the same side, stands Hurlford Parish Church, a recently-erected building, and one of the finest places of worship in Ayrshire. Opposite it, to the south, is the Portland Iron Works, the glare of whose furnaces on a dark night illuminates the whole district.

Passing through Crookedholm, a straggling row of irregularly-built dwellings that line the road at a spot where the Irvine, far below the level of the highway, sweeps round a curve as it ripples onward, I soon arrived at Woodend, the beautiful residence of Allan Gilmour, Esq. The house is built of red sandstone, and occupies a position that commands a capital view of the surrounding country. The road beyond it is nearly a dead level, and continues so until Kilmarnock is reached.

After a pleasant but lengthy walk I passed through a tollbar and entered London Road, an aristocratic suburb already noticed, and soon reached Green Bridge. Traversing Duke Street, I arrived once more in the Cross as the gloamin’ was setting in, and wearily sought the seclusion of my home, where my return was hailed by the gleeful shouts of my little ones, who one and all were so glad to see my face that they accorded me a hearty welcome--yes, such a welcome as little truthful, loving souls only can give. One laid hold of my staff, the other of my hat, while a third set my arm-chair in a cozy corner and fetched my slippers. I drew up to the ingle cheek, and felt grateful that I was once more at "my ain fireside."

I’ve wandered by yon country side,
And viewed the lowly graves
Where Scotland’s martyr’d heros sleep,
O’er whom the green grass waves.
I’ve gathered tales o’ auld langsyne,
And climbed the braes sae steep;
I’ve stood upon the castle wa’
And viewed the ruined keep;

but now we must part. You have obtained the benefit of my jottings, and I trust they have entertained you, and not only awakened fond memories of youthful haunts and associations, but added something to your stock of knowledge. If this be the case, then my object in giving them a permanent form has been attained, and we take leave of each other mutually satisfied.




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